When the New Year knocks at the door, many people adopt New Year’s resolutions. Others choose theme words, theme verses, or even 30-day challenges to start the year, hoping to kick start a new habit.
Two years ago I started journaling in January. (No, I’m not about to insist that you start!) It wasn’t so much a resolution or even a long term plan to start a new habit. I just wanted to be more reflective about how I was or wasn’t living out my faith.
This idea of reflection ties right in with my recent thoughts on confession. As I’ve noted, self-examination is a key aspect of this spiritual discipline. As with the act of confession itself, self-examination can take different forms. I’ve used several different approaches lately, but my use of journaling has historically probably been one of the most effective for deep self-reflection. Because of this, I want to share my process with you. My goal isn’t to get you to start journaling. Instead I just want you to see how you might use some of the processes to help with your own self-examination and confession practices.
For Me, It’s All in the Circle
I start by seeking the illumination of God’s Spirit to help me to identify areas of sin or where I need to grow. I often start by praying Psalm 139:23–24.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
These verses focus on more than sin, but they can include it in the reference to “any offensive way.” After praying these verses, I go through my previous day’s activities and schedule. (I usually do this in the early morning.) Sometimes I do it mentally, but I often find that writing it down is helpful. Here, I draw a circle and then use Ann Boyd’s approach to journaling in the round, specifically points 2 and 3, which I quote here:
- Inside the circle, I write the day and date. Then I make four marks at the 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock positions (as if this were a clock). They represent time, but in a 24-hour scheme. The topmost mark represents midnight, and the opposite (on the bottom) is noon. The sides are 6 am (on the right) and 6 pm (on the left). This gives me a structure in which to record the events of the day.
- All around the circle, I note the events of each day with varying degrees of specificity. I usually begin with sleep (I hope that happens at least between midnight and 6 a.m.!), then continue on with each major event. This helps to jog my memory about what I did that day, which also reminds me about different thoughts and emotions I had along the road.
Ann’s focus here is on journaling more broadly, but I’ve found it to be an effective tool for really taking a look at how I’m living my life in God’s presence day-by-day. Sometimes, God immediately brings something glaring to mind. Other times I will bring the different parts of my day to God and ask Him to help me see them as He does, revealing how I have represented Him well and where I have fallen short. Sometimes He’ll prompt me about wrong attitudes or motives; other times I will sense His pleasure.
That last point—the experience of God’s pleasure—reminds me that this process isn’t about condemnation. Yes, that pleasure is sensed in those places where I have borne His name well, but it is also felt in the very willingness to seek His presence and perspective. All of this happens before the throne of my gracious Father, who sent His Son to die for me. I know that I am loved and that He wants only His best for me.
The Bottom Line for You
Back to my process, you may not be a journal-er and that’s fine! You could adopt this approach of going through your day by looking at your calendar or even just mentally going through your day. I personally just happen to benefit from looking at something written. The goal, no matter how you do it, is to allow God to show you what you may need to confess and where He wants to work in your life.
Ultimately, though, whether you decide to take the plunge into journaling or confession, I am praying that in this New Year you will see the hand of God at work in your life, conforming you to the image of Jesus.
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